I listened to a lot of cool music in 2021. The problem is all the “new” artists I got into were artists who had released albums in 2020. So not only did it fuck this year’s list, it fucked last year’s list too. If you’re curious those bands were Beach Bunny, Vulfpeck, and Khurangbin. Thanks a lot 2020.
The hard part of listmaking this year was I had no road map. I gave up on Pitchfork about a year ago cuz they think they’re so big. YouTube turned out to be helpful. I follow a couple of indie record labels and try to keep tabs on up and coming artists. KEXP’s YouTube channel is incredibly helpful. Those guys r kewl.
And I’m not embarrassed to admit I still check the Billboard Hot 100. Well, maybe a little embarrassed. I say all this and I didn’t end up with that crazy of a list. At least it’s not crazy to me. I’m not crazy. Anyways, here’s my not crazy list.
I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you.
10. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
There’s no “Bad Guy” here. No song with a music video that Melissa McCarthy will ever parody on an episode of Ellen. That’s a real thing. Look it up. But where Happier Than Ever lacks in the hit department, it makes up for it with Billie’s growth as a lyricist.
Happier Than Ever leads off with “Getting Older” where Billie describes the pressures of growing up while the public watches and judges her. The songs are less fun, more poignant. There is fun to be had though. “Lost Cause” was a laid back summer favorite and “Therefore I Am” is a moody toe tapper. This isn’t a perfect album. There are slow spots for sure. But Billie and her brother/collaborator Finneas are trying new things and evolving as artists. They’ve still got an exciting future ahead of them.
Dude, there are at least three tracks on this debut that are fuckin’ bops. The only reason this album isn’t higher is because most of the album chills in that mellow, mid-tempo space that a lot of modern pop music occupies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice space to be in. I prefer current pop music way more than when I was a teen, but it all can get a little same-y.
SOUR feels special though. There’s a real power to Olivia Rodrigo’s break out ballad “Driver’s License”. That’s a song that feels like an artist telling their story. There’s a personal touch on this album which surprised me considering Olivia Rodrigo initially felt like a quick cash-in to find the next big teen pop star. Thankfully, Olivia Rodrigo has the talent to justify such a meteoric rise. I hope she keeps rockin’ too. “brutal” and “good 4 u” are fuckin’ bops. Down with homework!
8. Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
I forgot to listen to this album until this week. I know people say it’s sad but sad can be good sometimes. I liked it. That music video where Kacey Musgraves is shattered into a bunch of pieces like Death Becomes Her is pretty badass.
What a couple of years it’s been for Doja Cat. She’s had hit songs, she got a dance in Fortnite, she even has a song in a Taco Bell commercial. That’s way more impressive to me than an EGOT. Doja dabbles with Latin flair on songs like “Woman” and does cool sci-fi future shit with “Need to Know”.
Doja oozes charisma and impresses as one of the few mainstream artists I’m aware of that is just a proficient singer as she is a rapper. Though that doesn’t mean much coming from me. I know nothing. Though I do know Taco Bell and that song in the Taco Bell commercial is one of my favorites of 2021.
6. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
I have just been informed that there is nothing left to say about the War on Drugs. We did it. We won!
5. Bat Fangs – Queen of My World
4. Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders, & the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises
I’m always down for experimental shit. Especially something atmospheric that I can put on late at night as I chug hot coffee and bang out a terrible screenplay. Promises is a dreamlike hybrid of jazz and classical with a unique assembly of collaborators. Thirty-five-year-old UK electronic musician Sam Shepherd aka “Floating Points” is the main creative force behind the album. Of course he’s joined by legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders (who’s 81!) and if that wasn’t enough why not throw in the whole London Symphony Orchestra.
The result is a breathtaking wave of strings and keys. Floating Point’s plays a chord progression on keys that seems to repeat itself every 60 seconds but never gets old. Though Pharaoh Sander’s soulful saxophone is the heart of the album. Sanders more or less gets to solo for 46 minutes and it’s great. This feels like the soundtrack to a classic movie that was never made. What goes good with sax? Lethal Weapon? Should this be the soundtrack to the next Lethal Weapon
3. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
I feel like Japanese Breakfast has been raved about on this site often, so you might wonder what finally convinced me to open my ears to Michelle Zane’s lush world of indie pop. It was actually the indie game Sable released last September. If you’re not familiar, Sable is a game where you explore a desert landscape as a girl named Sable while riding a sweet hover bike. It’s a scenic and relaxing game with a soundtrack by who? You guessed it: Japanese Breakfast. Now I’m here and I love it!
2. Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life
I’m so lame. I didn’t even realize Parquet Courts had a new album out until I saw “Walking at a Downtown Pace” on “Obama’s Favorite Songs of 2021” list. I’m more out of touch with music than a sixty-year-old former President who probably has a lot more important things to occupy his time with.
I love Parquet Courts. I haven’t crunched the numbers but I think they’ve made it on my end of year list more than any other artist. This is the fifth time they’ve made my top ten. They’re just so consistent. I couldn’t even tell you which of their albums I like the best. This is the highest they’ve ever ranked. Maybe it’s this one?
The genesis of this album came from co-lead vocalists and guitarists Austin Brown and Andrew Savage becoming disillusioned by the idol worship of indie music festivals. This led to an interest in techno and club music where it’s more about the sound and space of the room than the douchebags on stage.
The resulting sound is a hybrid of rock and dance music that would make Primal Scream proud. This is a fun, danceable album. Obama nailed it man. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” is my second favorite song of the year. To see my number one, just scroll down one more spot.
1. Supersport! – tveir dagar
I wanted to use the number one spot to highlight a new band with a lot of potential. I found this Icelandic quartet by way of KEXP’s “Live at Home” series and fell hard for their slinky guitars and sweet melodies. “Hring eftir hring” (spellcheck really fought me on that one) is hands down my favorite song of 2021. The melody, the percussion, the backing vocals, you kidding me? I give it a big ‘ol chef’s kiss. The album reminds me of Dungen. Another one of my favorite Nordic bands with a knack for earworm pop and trippy guitars.
I love the back and forth vocals of guitarist Bjarni Daníel and bassist Þóra Birgit. The other two guys are good too! I hope these guys get more attention. Seems like they got a lot of humor and heart. Something we need in these trying time more than ever.
Goodnight everybody! #LiveMas